Matthew Hicks wins Suffolk County Council Conservative leadership vote over Colin Noble

Matthew Hicks, the new leader of the Conservative group at Suffok County Council. Picture: SARAH LU

Matthew Hicks, the new leader of the Conservative group at Suffok County Council. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Suffolk County council is to have a new leader – cabinet member Matthew Hicks defeated Colin Noble in the election for the leader of the ruling Conservative group.

Colin Noble, who has lost the leadership challenge for the Conserative group at Suffolk County Counc

Colin Noble, who has lost the leadership challenge for the Conserative group at Suffolk County Council. Picture: SIMON PARKER

A vote took place behind closed doors this morning after Mr Hicks launched his leadership challenge. The exact result of the secret ballot of the 52 Tory councillors was not revealed, even to them, but councillors we spoke to said they understood Mr Hicks had a “substantial majority” in a “conclusive” election result.

Mr Hicks – who is responsible for the environment and public protection in the cabinet – launched his leadership bid last month because of discontent among some of his colleagues at Mr Noble’s combative style.

After winning the vote, Mr Hicks paid tribute to his predecessor and his three years in office – but confirmed there would be a change in style.

However details of any policy changes will have to wait until Mr Hicks is confirmed as new council leader at the authority’s annual general meeting on May 24.

Mr Hicks said: “I want to thank Colin Noble for all he has done. He has a great work ethic and he has been a positive influence – the group is grateful for all he has done.

“The group has now made a decision and Colin remains leader of the council until the Annual General Meeting.

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“I am extremely excited to have been elected by the group but we have a lot to do. I will be talking to my colleagues and we will give more information about what will happen next at the Annual General Meeting.”

While his style might be different to his predecessor, their basic principles were the same. Mr Hicks said: “Colin and I are both Conservatives and we have the same core values.”

Mr Noble left Endeavour House straight after the meeting. He said he was disappointed at the result but took pride in his three years at the helm.

He said: “I was delighted to become leader and I was delighted to set an agenda and win 52 out of the 75 county council seats in last year’s election.

“I would like to congratulate Matthew Hick and I look forward to seeing how he takes the council forward.”

The new deputy leader is Mary Evans, who has been chair of the council’s scrutiny committee. She is expected to get a senior cabinet position. She said: “I am deeply honoured by the trust that has been put in me by Matthew Hicks and now we are looking forward to getting down to work.”

Matthew Hicks’ journey to the top job as leader of Suffolk County Council

Matthew Hicks was first elected to Suffolk County Council in 2013 as member for the Thredling division in the middle of the county.

This is an area including Debenham, and he has lived near Worlingworth for the last 15 years.

Mr Hicks became a deputy cabinet member shortly after he was elected to the authority – and became a full member in 2015 with responsibility for public protection (fire and trading standards), the environment (including waste disposal) and broadband.

During this time the county’s incinerator (or energy from waste plant) was commissioned at Great Blakenham. The actual work pushing it through the county had been done by his predecessors – but he was in place when it started working.

He also pushed through changes to the fire service which have seen the number of appliances reduced but the number of stations remain the same.

What happens next at Suffolk County Council after leadership change?

Colin Noble remains leader of Suffolk County Council until the annual general meeting when the 52 Conservative members are certain to elect Matthew Hicks to the role.

Until then Mr Noble’s cabinet remains in place – and he is due to chair a meeting of that next Tuesday (with Mr Hicks as a cabinet member).

Mr Hicks will unveil his new cabinet at the annual meeting on May 24 – and there are bound to be changes in personnel. New deputy leader Mary Evans will have a place and he is likely to promote some of his keenest backers.

Don’t expect to see former leader Mark Bee or key supporter Nick Gowrley in the cabinet, however. They are leaders of Waveney and Mid Suffolk councils – and you can’t be in the cabinet of two separate authorities.

However Mr Hicks is expected to promote some of his supporters – and some of Mr Noble’s cabinet will return to the backbenches later this month.

New deputy Mary Evans will have a key role at the county council

The new deputy leader of the Tories at Endeavour House is Mary Evans. She will become deputy leader of the council on May 24.

Like Mr Hicks, she arrived at the county council in 2013 representing the Clare division. She has recently been chair of the council’s scrutiny committee and is highly-regarded by councillors of all parties.

She is expected to be offered a key role in Mr Hicks’ cabinet – and to play a major part in his discussions before it is announced at the meeting.

The role of scrutiny committee chair at the county is usually reserved for someone from the administration party – but is often taken by someone who is not necessarily a close ally of the leadership.

That could make it an attractive – and interesting – consolation prize for one of Mr Noble’s cabinet members who lose their seat at the top table in Mr Hicks’ forthcoming reshuffle.

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